holding a guitar pick with 3 fingers

Holding A Guitar Pick With 3 Fingers: Right, Wrong or Perfectly OK?

How do you hold your guitar pick? Holding a guitar pick with 3 fingers is very common, but the debate on if this is correct is still out.

Learning to play the guitar is tough, challenging, but highly rewarding. Beginner guitarists will find themselves bombarded with a slew of choices, from which guitar to buy to which size pick works best. While some choices are easy to make, other choices are more difficult, like deciding how to hold your pick. Generally speaking, holding the pick with two fingers is the most common way for most guitarists. However, holding a guitar pick with 3 fingers is becoming more popular.

Yet, many world-famous guitarists are known for their unconventional and unique way of playing one of the world’s oldest instruments. Guitarist such as Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Garcia, and Tony Iommi all developed their unique style, for various reasons, yet the music they created is classic. One common debate among novices, advanced players, and experts alike, is the best way to hold your guitar pick.

As mentioned before, the most “common” way to hold a guitar pick is with two fingers, however, experts suggest that guitarists should play the guitar in the most comfortable way possible. While learning the proper technique is important, playing comfortably is equally important if not more.

But how does one learn to play the guitar comfortably? Most music teachers agree if you begin with poor technique, playing the guitar will become more difficult as your skill level advances. However, if you begin learning with good habits, playing the guitar will become easier and more natural with time.

Think about some of the greatest guitarists in the world, the common link between them is how natural and comfortable they feel with their instruments. To play like some of the greatest musicians in the world, you must first learn about the various ways you can hold your pick. Learning about the various techniques available to you as a guitarist will make you a better player by helping you gain the confidence to play any style of music you want.

How many fingers should I use to hold my guitar pick?

Traditionally, using two fingers is the best way to hold your pick, however, guitarists such as Tommy Lommi and Django Reinhardt have had to curtail the way they hold their picks due to previous injuries to their fingers. Using three fingers, or their middle fingers seems to have worked out well for these famous musicians, but can it work for you?

Short answer: maybe, but is it a good idea? Probably not. While holding a guitar pick with 3 fingers may seem like a great idea, it’s highly recommended that you don’t do it. There are numerous downsides to holding a pick with your three fingers, they include:

No tapping – Using three fingers restricts the use of your middle finger and stops you from tapping. Tapping is the process of hammering on the string closest to the fretboard with your finger. It’s a great way of producing a note without using your pick or strumming the guitar.
Slows you down – Using three fingers will slow you down. If you love playing solos, especially for faster tunes, two fingers on the pick are the way to go.
Nails, nails, nails – In general, it’s a good idea to watch your nails as you play the guitar, especially on the upstrokes.

Okay, so what’s the best way to hold my guitar pick?

Let’s get one thing straight: picks are not necessary to play the guitar. People are often surprised when they find out that information. However, choosing to use a pick is another choice that guitarists must make for themselves. The easiest way to decide is to understand the style of music you want to play in advance.

Some styles of music will require a pick either all the time or just partially. Experts suggest focusing less on how you hold your pick and more on developing and improving your style. There are so many different styles to choose from, it’s best to learn a few so you can adjust your style to the type of music you’re playing.

• Fingerpicking – Guitarists who do not use a pick use the fingerpicking style.
• Flatpicking – Players who prefer using picks.
• Hybrid Picking – A more advanced technique, guitarists who use hybrid picking use both their fingers and picks to create sounds. Sometimes, a combination of fingerpicking, flat-picking, and thumb picking is used.
• Sweep picking – One of the hardest techniques to learn, sweep picking is a “sweeping” motion of your pick across the strings while using your fret hand and producing a series of notes.

Successfully learning to play the guitar, means learning one or more of the above techniques. Hybrid picking and sweep picking are particularly difficult to learn, especially if you’re holding a guitar pick with three fingers instead of two.

If picks aren’t necessary, why use them?
Good question, just because picks aren’t necessary to play the guitar, they’re integral to your performance as a musician as you gain experience. Both flat-picking and fingerpicking are the predominant techniques you’ll utilize as a guitarist. To learn why they’re both important, you need to understand why a pick is an important tool.

Picks are used to produce a variety of notes in rapid succession. Without a pick, your fingers don’t have the dexterity to produce a multitude of notes, leaving your music stale and boring. Flat pickers can choose between a traditional or thumb pick to produce the music they want.

Hybrid picking—switching between fingers and pick—is a useful way to create flair, add complex chord progressions, and further develop your style. Don’t forget, using a pick makes it easier to play arpeggios, add tone and volume, and play excellent music.

But, I want to use three fingers.
Again, playing the guitar—or any instrument—is about comfort. Musicians are so comfortable playing their instruments, it’s like the instrument is a part of their body. If holding pick with three fingers feels natural to you, go for it. Holding a guitar pick with 3 fingers isn’t all bad, it provides more stability for some guitarists. Eddie Van Halen and James Hetfield both use three fingers to riff on their guitars.

If you’re using three fingers, be aware of the risks, and choose the right sized pick. There are many ways a pick can fit in your hand, learning them helps decide how to hold your pick comfortably.

Angling– There are two ways to angle your pick, either towards your neck or way from it. When you angle the pick towards your neck, you produce a softer sound. Angling away from your neck will give you a sharper sound.
Choked Up or Choked Back – Choking refers to where you hold the pick. When you hold the pick choked up very little of the tip of your pick will extend beyond your fingers. Guitarists who use this method often use it for shredding. The choked back method is the opposite, most of the pick will be extended beyond your fingers.
Flat – One of the more challenging ways to hold your pick, flat is often used by bluegrass and jazz musicians. Flat, means not angling your pick in any direction. This technique is great as it provides good volume especially for genres like country, jazz, and bluegrass.

Should I continue holding a pick with 3 fingers?

Here’s a video explaining this in greater detail:

There’s no hard and fast rule about using three fingers to hold your pick, however, they are risks you should be aware of before deciding to use three fingers. Remember, playing the guitar is not only about the music, but playing it comfortably. If three fingers work for you go for it, but learning proper techniques is equally important. If you plan to develop and improve your playing style, it’s important to learn the various ways you can hold your guitar pick to provide the best sound.

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